Table of Contents

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A look at Griffey's career

Griffey's era with the Reds came to an anticlimactic end last week in a trade to the White Sox for a couple of scrubs. And while his career can't be said to be over yet--he's given no indications that he's retiring thus far--I wanted to take a quick look back at his impressive career.

George Kenneth Griffey, Jr., was the first overall selection in the 1987 amateur draft out of Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Other notables taken in the first round include Jack McDowell (5th), Kevin Appier (9th), Delino DeShields (11th), Mike Remlinger (16th), Jack Armstrong (18th), Craig Biggio (22nd), Pete Harnisch (27th), and Travis Fryman (30th). Pretty impressive class...but Griffey was clearly the best of the bunch.

Griffey skyrocketed through the minors, beating the tarnation out of A-ball teams before a short stint at AA to end his year-18 season. He skipped AAA altogether, starting instead in center field for Seattle in the 1989 season as a 19-year old. Thus began what has to be considered among the most dominant first 12 years in baseball history, and, of course, a shoe-in Hall of Fame career. He was a 13-time all-star, 10-time gold glover, 7-time silver slugger, and the 1997 MVP (five times in the top-5).

Hitting
Year Age Team PA %K %BB BABIP AVG OBP SLG ISO OPS R/G RAA RAA/PA RAR
1989 19 SEA 506 16% 9% 0.288 0.264 0.329 0.420 0.156 0.749 4.7 7.3 0.015 21.8
1990 20 SEA 666 12% 9% 0.315 0.300 0.366 0.481 0.181 0.847 6.0 27.6 0.042 46.1
1991 21 SEA 633 13% 11% 0.344 0.327 0.399 0.527 0.200 0.926 7.3 43.5 0.069 60.4
1992 22 SEA 617 11% 7% 0.310 0.308 0.361 0.535 0.227 0.896 6.6 37.0 0.060 53.7
1993 23 SEA 691 13% 14% 0.298 0.309 0.408 0.617 0.308 1.025 8.5 60.7 0.088 80.0
1994 24 SEA 493 15% 11% 0.311 0.323 0.402 0.674 0.351 1.076 9.2 48.1 0.098 63.1
1995 25 SEA 314 17% 17% 0.260 0.258 0.379 0.481 0.223 0.860 6.4 11.2 0.036 21.0
1996 26 SEA 638 16% 12% 0.290 0.303 0.392 0.628 0.325 1.020 8.6 52.3 0.082 72.4
1997 27 SEA 704 17% 11% 0.291 0.304 0.382 0.646 0.342 1.028 8.3 58.1 0.082 79.4
1998 28 SEA 720 17% 11% 0.270 0.284 0.365 0.611 0.327 0.976 7.7 50.1 0.070 72.6
1999 29 SEA 706 15% 13% 0.277 0.285 0.384 0.576 0.291 0.960 7.6 42.0 0.059 64.7
2000 30 CIN 631 19% 15% 0.272 0.271 0.387 0.556 0.285 0.943 7.3 31.6 0.050 52.1
2001 31 CIN 417 17% 11% 0.298 0.286 0.365 0.533 0.247 0.898 6.6 18.8 0.045 31.8
2002 32 CIN 232 17% 12% 0.286 0.264 0.358 0.426 0.162 0.784 5.0 2.0 0.009 9.1
2003 33 CIN 201 22% 13% 0.252 0.247 0.370 0.566 0.319 0.936 7.0 11.2 0.056 17.4
2004 34 CIN 348 19% 13% 0.260 0.253 0.351 0.513 0.260 0.864 6.1 10.7 0.031 21.9
2005 35 CIN 555 17% 10% 0.305 0.301 0.369 0.576 0.275 0.945 7.3 36.2 0.065 52.7
2006 36 CIN 472 17% 8% 0.248 0.252 0.316 0.486 0.234 0.802 5.0 1.3 0.003 17.5
2007 37 CIN 623 16% 14% 0.284 0.277 0.372 0.496 0.219 0.868 6.2 20.9 0.034 40.2
2008 38 TOT 439 15% 14% 0.263 0.247 0.355 0.427 0.180 0.782 5.2 4.2 0.010 18.1
Career

10606 16% 12% 0.290 0.288 0.373 0.548 0.260 0.921 7.0 575.0 0.054 896
The Griffey that we'll remember was a guy who had decent strikeout rates, decent to good walk rates, and amazing power. He had five seasons with a 0.300+ isolated power. His best offensive season may well have been his MVP year, when he hit 0.304/56/147 (triple crown stats) and produced 79 runs above replacement to lead the AL West champion '97 Mariners to the postseason. At least as good, however, was his 1993 performance (80 RAR), and he was on pace for his greatest season ever in 1994 before it was cut short by the strike (9.2 R/G, 0.10 RAA/PA, 63 RAR & 40 HR in 111 games). His peak lasted roughly 7 seasons, though the strike and a wrist injury limited his playing time in '94 and '95.

During Griffey's career, the average MLB team has gone from scoring 4.14 runs per game in 1989 to 5.14 runs per game in 2000, and back down to the current level around 4.8 runs per game. He has always clocked in as an above-average hitter. He's played his entire career in hitters' parks (the Kingdome, Cinergy Field, and Great American Ballparks), but even after adjusting for his home parks his offense has accounted for 896 runs above replacement and counting.

Fielding & Total Value
Year PA RAA RAR ZR-Runs PosAdj TtlVal-RAA TtlVal-RAR
1989 506 9 24 -3 3 9 24
1990 666 30 48 3 4 36 55
1991 633 45 61 -5 4 43 60
1992 617 37 54 -6 3 34 51
1993 691 61 80 -2 3 62 81
1994 493 48 63 -5 2 46 60
1995 314 11 21 -9 2 4 14
1996 638 52 72 -5 3 51 71
1997 704 58 79 -6 4 56 77
1998 720 50 73 -3 4 51 73
1999 706 44 67 -8 4 40 63
2000 631 32 52 14 3 49 70
2001 417 19 32 0 2 21 34
2002 232 2 9 -1 1 2 9
2003 201 11 17 -1 1 11 17
2004 348 11 22 -13 2 0 11
2005 555 36 52 -21 3 18 34
2006 472 2 18 -11 2 -7 9
2007 623 22 41 -3 -5 14 33
2008 433 5 19 2 -3 4 17
Career 10600 584 905 -83 42 543 864
I'm a little hamstrung here, because for this table I'm only using zone rating from ESPN. I strongly prefer to use at least two fielding metrics whenever possible, but prior to 2003 or thereabouts I just don't have the data to do this. In recent years, ZR has been much more favorable toward Griffey's performances in the field than other metrics (e.g. RZR, UZR, PMR).

But surprisingly, even given that, Griffey doesn't come off as an overwhelmingly good fielder. In fact, compared to other center fielders, Griffey typically came out a tad below average over most of his career. The one real exception was in his first year with the Reds, 2000, when he was rated 14 runs above average. I have to wonder if there are some park effects that aren't accounted for at the Kingdome. As bad as the gold glove voters can be, I have a hard time believing that Griffey would win 10 straight gold gloves at a premier defensive position if he was a below-average fielder. While the only other fielding resource I have on hand from that era, Clay Davenport's fielding translations, show Griffey in a somewhat more positive light, he still does not come across as an exceptional defender by the numbers.

Even if we accept these data, though, it wasn't until the 2004 season--following three seasons shortened by leg injuries--that he became a genuine liability in the field. In 2005, his first year back from an experimental hamstring surgery, his defense cut his value by 35%--and those are some of the more generous numbers you'll find. The move to right field in 2007 certainly helped, but other metrics indicate that he's still a dreadful fielder in right.

Even though the fielding numbers don't help his cause, Griffey's overall numbers are still hard to match: 846 runs above replacement on his career (~85 wins), and counting. It's been a very impressive career. And the best part is, even though he's fading, he's not done yet. Add my voice to the chorus of Reds fans who hope that he not only makes it to the post-season, but gets the chance to play for his first ring.

Update: At Sky's suggestion, I checked out Sean Smith's TotalZone ratings for Griffey. Here they are (runs vs. average; year).
-12 1989
-4 1990
-2 1991
-7 1992
-12 1993
-9 1994
2 1995
5 1996
6 1997
6 1998
8 2000
-10 2001
-11 2002
-5 2003
-9 2004
-23 2005
-17 2006
0 2007
Again, the data don't support the idea that Griffey was a spectacular outfielder at any point in his career. Nevertheless, especially when you keep in mind that he was playing center field during this time, Griffey was clearly a defensive asset throughout most of his offensive peak (~'93-'99). It wasn't until 2004 or 2005 that he became a real liability out there. Again, 2005 was the season following his experimental hamstring surgery, which is when I think most of us noticed his drastically reduced speed.

These ratings would also indicate that his best season was clearly his MVP year, when he was 79 runs above replacement via offense, 6 runs above average as a center fielder, and receives a +4 run bonus for playing a premium position. That's 89 runs above a replacement player, which is a spectacular season.